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- The Duel Between France and Germany - 5/13 -

In other times there have been wars as criminal in origin, where trifle, straw, or egg-shell played its part; but they contrasted less with the surrounding civilization. To this list belong the frequent Dynastic Wars, prompted by the interest, the passion, or the whim of some one in the Family of Kings. Others have begun in recklessness kindred to that we now witness,---as when England entered into war with Holland, and for reason did not hesitate to allege "abusive pictures."[Footnote: Humo, History of England, Ch. LXV., March 17, 1672.----The terras of the Declaration on this point were,----"Scarce a town within their territories that is not filled with abusive pictures." (Hansard's Parliamentary History, Vol. IV. col. 514.) Upon which Hume remarks: "The Dutch were long at a loss what to make of this article, till it was discovered that a portrait of Cornelius de Witt, brother to the Pensionary, painted by order of certain magistrates of Dort, and hung up in a chamber of the Town-House, had given occasion to the complaint. In the perspective of this portrait the painter had drawn some ships on fire in a harbor. This was construed to be Chatham, where De Witt had really distinguished himself," during the previous war, in the way here indicated,----"the disgrace" of which, says Lingard, "sunk deep into the heart of the King and the hearts of his subjects." History of England, Vol. IX. Ch. III., June 13, 1667.]. The England of Charles the Second was hardly less sensitive than the France of Louis Napoleon, while in each was similar indifference to consequences. But France has precedents of her own. From the remarkable correspondence of the Princess Palatine, Duchess of Orleans, we learn that the first war with Holland under Louis the Fourteenth was brought on by the Minister, De Lionne, to injure a petty German prince who had made him jealous of his wife.[Footnote: Briefe der Prinzessin Elisabeth Charlotte von Orleans an die Gaugraefin Louise, 1676-1722, herausg. von W. Menzel, (Stuttgart, 1843,)---Paris, 3) Mertz, 1718, s. 288.] The communicative and exuberant Saint-Simon tells us twice over how Louvois, another Minister of Louis the Fourteenth, being overruled by his master with regard to the dimensions of a window at Versailles, was filled with the idea that "on account of a few inches in a window," as he expressed it, all his services would be forgotten, and therefore, to save his place, excited a foreign war that would make him necessary to the King. The flames in the Palatinate, devouring the works of man, attested his continuing power. The war became general, but, according to the chronicler, it ruined France at home, and did not extend her domain abroad. [Footnote: Memoires, (Paris, 1829,) Tom. VII. pp. 49-51; XIII pp. 9-10.] The French Emperor confidently expected to occupy the same historic region so often burnt and ravaged by French armies, with that castle of Heidelberg which repeats the tale of blood,--and, let me say, expected it for no better reason than that of his royal predecessor, stimulated by an unprincipled Minister anxious for personal position. The parallel is continued in the curse which the Imperial arms have brought on France.


How this war proceeded I need not recount. You have all read the record day by day, sorrowing for Humanity,--how, after briefest interval of preparation or hesitation, the two combatants first crossed swords at Saarbruecken, within the German frontier, and the young Prince Imperial performed his part in picking up a bullet from the field, which the Emperor promptly reported by telegraph to the Empress,--how this little military success is all that was vouchsafed to the man who began the war,--how soon thereafter victory followed, first on the hill-sides of Wissembourg and then of Woerth, shattering the army of MacMahon, to which the Empire was looking so confidently,--how another large army under Bazaine was driven within the strong fortress of Metz,--how all the fortresses, bristling with guns and frowning upon Germany, were invested,--how battle followed battle on various fields, where Death was the great conqueror,--how, with help of modern art, war showed itself to be murder by machinery,--how MacMahon, gathering together his scattered men and strengthening them with reinforcements, attempted to relieve Bazaine,--how at last, after long marches, his large army found itself shut up at Sedan with a tempest of fire beating upon its huddled ranks, so that its only safety was capitulation,--how with the capitulation of the army was the submission of the Emperor himself, who gave his sword to the King of Prussia and became prisoner of war,--and how, on the reception of this news at Paris, Louis Napoleon and his dynasty were divested of their powers and the Empire was lost in the Republic. These things you know. I need not dwell on them. Not to battles and their fearful vicissitudes, where all is incarnadined with blood, must we look, but to the ideas which prevail,--as for the measure of time we look, not to the pendulum in its oscillations, but to the clock in the tower, whose striking tells the hours. A great hour for Humanity sounded when the Republic was proclaimed. And this I say, even should it fail again; for every attempt contributes to the final triumph.


The war, from the pretext at its beginning to the capitulation at Sedan, has been a succession of surprises, where the author of the pretext was a constant sufferer. Nor is this strange. Falstaff says, with humorous point, "See now how wit may be made a Jack-a- lent, when't is upon ill employment!"[Footnote: Merry Wives of Windsor, Act V. Sc. 5.]--and another character, in a play of Beaumont and Fletcher, reveals the same evil destiny in stronger terms, when he says,--

"Hell gives us art to reach the depth of sin, But leaves us wretched fools, when we are in." [Footnote: Queen of Corinth, Act IV. Sc. 3.]

And this was precisely the condition of the French Empire. Germany perhaps had one surprise, at the sudden adoption of the pretext for war. But the Empire has known nothing but surprise. A fatal surprise was the promptitude with which all the German States, outside of Austrian rule, accepted the leadership of Prussia, and joined their forces to hers. Differences were forgotten,--whether the hate of Hanover, the dread of Wuertemberg, the coolness of Bavaria, the opposition of Saxony, or the impatience of the Hanse Towns at lost importance. Hanover would not rise; the other States and cities would not be detached. On the day after the reading of the War Manifesto at the French tribune, even before the King's speech to the Northern Parliament, the Southern States began to move. German unity stood firm, and this was the supreme surprise for France with which the war began. On one day the Emperor in his Official Journal declares his object to be the deliverance of Bavaria from Prussian oppression, and on the very next day the Crown Prince of Prussia, at the head of Bavarian troops, crushes an Imperial army.

Then came the manifest inferiority of the Imperial army, everywhere outnumbered, which was another surprise,--the manifest inferiority of the Imperial artillery, also a surprise,--the manifest inferiority of the Imperial generals, still a surprise. Above these was a prevailing inefficiency and improvidence, which very soon became conspicuous, and this was a surprise. The strength of Germany, as now exhibited, was a surprise. And when the German armies entered France, every step was a surprise. Wissembourg was a surprise; so was Woerth; so was Beaumont; so was Sedan. Every encounter was a surprise. Abel Douay, the French general, who fell bravely fighting at Wissembourg, the first sacrifice on the battle-field, was surprised; so was MacMahon, not only at the beginning, but at the end. He thought that the King and Crown Prince were marching on Paris. So they were,--but they turned aside for a few days to surprise a whole army of more than, a hundred thousand men, terrible with cannon and newly invented implements of war, under a Marshal of France, and with an Emperor besides. As this succession of surprises was crowned with what seemed the greatest surprise of all, there remained a greater still in the surprise of the French Empire. No Greek Nemesis with unrelenting hand ever dealt more incessantly the unavoidable blow, until the Empire fell as a dead body falls, while the Emperor became a captive and the Empress a fugitive, with their only child a fugitive also. The poet says:--

"Sometime let gorgeous Tragedy In sceptred pall come sweeping by."[Footnote: Milton, II Penseroso, 97-98.]

It has swept before the eyes of all. Beneath that sceptred pall is the dust of a great Empire, founded and ruled by Louis Napoleon; if not the dust of the Emperor also, it is because he was willing to sacrifice others rather than himself.


Twice before have French sovereigns yielded on the battle-field, and become prisoners of war; but never before was capitulation so vast. Do their fates furnish any lesson? At the Battle of Poitiers, memorable in English history, John, King of France, became the prisoner of Edward the Black Prince. His nobles, one after another, fell by his side, but he contended valiantly to the last, until, spent with fatigue and over-come by numbers, he surrendered. His son, of the same age as the son of the French Emperor, was wounded while battling for his father. The courtesy of the English Prince conquered more than his arms. I quote the language of Hume:-

"More touched by Edward's generosity than by his own calamities, he confessed, that, notwithstanding his defeat and captivity, his honor was still unimpaired, and that, if he yielded the victory, it was at least gained by a prince of such consummate valor and humanity. "[Footnote: History of England, (Oxford, 1826,) Cli. XVI., Vol. II. p. 407.]

The King was taken to England, where, after swelling the triumphal pageant of his conqueror, he made a disgraceful treaty for the dismemberment of France, which the indignant nation would not ratify. A captivity of more than four years was terminated by a ransom of three million crowns in gold,--an enormous sum, more than ten million dollars in our day. Evidently the King was unfortunate, for he did not continue in France, but, under the influence of motives differently stated, returned to England, where he died. Surely here is a lesson.

More famous than John was Francis, with salamander crest, also King of France, and rich in gayety, whose countenance, depicted by

The Duel Between France and Germany - 5/13

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